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“Study Death Always”: Seneca’s advice for living centered on dying (laphamsquarterly.org)
291 points by diodorus 5 months ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 106 comments



I wrote this in response to someone asking about other Stoic writings who, in the interim, deleted their response, so I'll post it as a stand-alone response:

I'm an avid reader of Stoic philosophy, to the point I would say it's a central pillar of my life. I would strongly advocate anyone interested in Stoicism not read these recent texts first, or, if I'm honest, really at all. I get that they're trying to making it approachable, but I feel that in an attempt to modernize the message they really lose most of it. One of the beautiful things about Stoicism is that the ancient philosophers were very mindful of speaking plainly, and their texts are extremely approachable. Epictetus' Enchiridion is very easy to parse and is packed full of very practical knowledge. It is one hundred percent the place to start. Following that, read Seneca's letters to Lucilius, which are titled either Moral Letters to Lucilius or Letters from a Stoic. These are very straight forward teachings in very direct language.

Beyond that there's a whole canon of writing. The only extant writing from Stoic philosophers are from Epictetus and Seneca. There are fragments from Musonius Rufus, and a small handful from the very ancients like Chrysippus and Zeno. There are writings about Stoicism by Marcus Aurelius, a very famous follower but not a teacher himself, and by Cicero, though he also wrote against the philosophy in other places. Marcus Aurelius' writings are very approachable and often recommended.

There are a few modern academic writings I would suggest to someone who has read the ancient sources, specifically the papers by A.A. Long. If you absolutely must have a modern book about the school, I'll contradict my earlier statement and say that William B. Irvine's A Guide to the Good Life is one exception.

I love Stoicism and am happy to talk about it at length. Anyone who is interested can feel free to contact me about it, my email is in my profile.

Ad fontes!


I personally always recommend Seneca as the perfect starting point, but I did receive immense value from the modern book “A Guide To The Good Life”.

https://www.amazon.com/gp/aw/d/B0040JHNQG (I prefer the Audible version though)


https://enchiridion.tasuki.org

Which translation would you recommend?


Hey I made that! Never would've thought it'd be shared here. Makes me very happy :)


For ease, Walton or Dobbin. When I read, I tend to pick up Oldfather.


I’ll second Seneca. I like On the Shortness of Life

Key Excerpt:

It is not that we have a short time to live, but that we waste a lot of it. Life is long enough, and a sufficiently generous amount has been given to us for the highest achievements if it were all well invested. But when it is wasted in heedless luxury and spent on no good activity, we are forced at last by death’s final constraint to realize that it has passed away before we knew it was passing. So it is: we are not given a short life but we make it short, and we are not ill-supplied but wasteful of it… Life is long if you know how to use it.


Have you had a chance to read Massimo Pigliucci 's How To Be A Stoic?


I've not, thought I'm somewhat familiar with Massimo through his other work. Would you recommend it?


No I haven't nor is it high on my priority list; for that matter, I know little of Stoicism itself aside from a few aphorisms and axioms -- the di/tri-chotomy of control, the Four Virtues, etc. As for why, I have the unfounded belief that Stoicism alone is too pacifistic thus is ill-equipped to handle malevolence at an interpersonal and societal level. I would need to read and research to get some answers though.


have the unfounded belief that Stoicism alone is too pacifistic thus is ill-equipped to handle malevolenc

Stoicism is formally taught in the classroom to aspiring Navy SEALs; it’s probably capable of handling (necessary) violence


In the case of training a fighting force, doctrine of the enemy is often as beneficial to study. That does not mean stoicism is being promoted as the doctrine of either side, however.

Obviously stoicism makes a useful tool for someone who must endure the incredible hardship of soul that special operations must endure, however it's important to note that it is equally useful for the enemy to be just as resilient.


It wouldn’t surprise me if Spetsnaz also studied it, it would if ISIS did


I read it, it was interesting but if you are looking for actionable advice I'd go for the William Irvine book first.


I just finished Marcus Aurelius. What would be a good next text?


Definitely Epictetus' Enchiridion (The Handbook).

A great link was posted below with multiple translations: https://enchiridion.tasuki.org


Great! Thanks!


I've recently started participating in Funeral Honors Details as a Navy Reservist.

We fold the flag, present it to the next of kin, play taps, and provide an honorable exit for anybody who has served.

It's been the most meaningful part of my 14 years of military service - which included a combat deployment.

Simply walking through the cemetery before the service is profound. All that remains of a life time of stories is usually just a name and a date. It's humbling to reflect that within 100 years (at the very very most), I too will be there...and some random stranger may come across my grave.

Death makes life all the more meaningful for me. Engaging with mourning families at least monthly helps me cherish my moments doing the things I love all the more.


Thank you for this service.

My friend's step-father recently passed away. He was a Vietnam era veteran and didn't leave this world with much planning for his passing. The service provided by the volunteers was of huge comfort to my friend and his family, the simple yet meaningful service lent dignity to the end of a situation that didn't have much of it.


I've been an avid reader of Stoicism, and was introduced to it by, you guessed it, Tim Ferriss. I have been conciously trying to adopt the philosophies and mantras into my day to day life.

Have compiled the following tangible techniques/approaches to thought feel free to add your own:

* Premeditatio Malorum (premeditation of evils or Negative Visualization) * Stoic Fork - Make the best use of things in your control and let nature handle the rest * Temporary Ownership - Never think of things you own as yours, merely borrowing from the universe (recycle) * Superficial Experimentation - Put yourself through situations that warrant ridicule in order to become resistant to it * Worse Case Scenario Simulation - Set aside a certain number of days to eat the cheapest food and cheapest clothing asking yourself: is this the condition I so feared? Make yourself uncomfortable * Only be ashamed of things worth being ashamed of; inoculate against superficial attachment in what others think * Planned Fasting * Planned Cold * Planned Poverty * Planned Ugly Clothing * Context Shifting - Cosmic relativism; remember you’re going to die and the world will keep turning * Growth mindset - praise yourself for the work not the result; challenge creates growth * Remove Distractions - am I afraid of death because I won’t be able to do THIS anymore ? If it’s no, then Remove the conveniences. * Opinions to actions - opinions are fine to have and express if they are followed by action but you shouldn’t have an opinion to have an opinion * Default to action - action before talking; so what needs to be done instead of “I should” * Daily quote meditation - take a stoic quote and reflect on how to apply it to your life everyday * Stoic Mindfulness - be in the moment; be attentive to what’s happening * Daily reflection journal - what did I do right ? What did I do wrong? What could I have done better? * Art of Aquiescence


I'm genuinely curious - what is this mindset supposed to accomplish?


All life is suffering, but mercifully it ends with death.

However, we don't want to die (because we are so attached to life, it's hard to overrule billions of years of evolution).

So we have to endure the suffering until we die on our own, or until the suffering becomes great enough to overcome the mental barrier of suicide.

Just as we can train our bodies through exercise to deal with exertion, so too can we train our minds through philosophy to deal with suffering. It makes life easier to live.


I'm of two minds on this approach. On the one hand, it seems like it would do a good job of toughening a person to the degree that they can cope with more suffering. On the other hand, the belief that life is suffering to be coped with seems somewhat self-fulfilling, and I find it hard to believe that happy moments are as effective if they're perceived in the omnipresent shadow of death.

(I say this having adopted some of these views and found myself at a lower baseline happiness, but also with less variance.)


Old aphorism: "there's a certain freedom in being completely screwed - it just can't get any worse."

Likewise death: when you've faced the prospect of death, of coming to grips with it, and survived it & now knowing you're on borrowed time, all things become a gift. I am literally hearing my heart beat right now from the sound of a machine, and every beat is directed by a computer; I've been (technically) dead, not for want of my body trying to get & stay there 4 different ways. Every moment is now a gift, something I'd not have experienced if not for modern medical tech (even healthier than most my age). Every dreary day, every hurtful word, every irritation, ... each is better than not having it at all, each being a painful step to the joys of sunsets, cardinals, smiling children, snuggling wife, and every other precious moment I have because "they're stopping his heart now" was followed (hours later) by the unreal experience of waking up.

For those who have not been to the edge and back, one's sense of proportion would do well to contemplate the meaning of going there, giving proper scale to the minutiae so many find impossibly grievous.


> or until the suffering becomes great enough to overcome the mental barrier of suicide.

Does Stoicism rationalize suicide?


Epictetus words it thusly (Discourses, book I, chapter 24):

>But remember the principal thing, -that the door is open. Do not be more fearful than children; but as they, when the play dues not please them, say, " I will play no longer," so do you, in the same case, say, "I will play no longer," and go; but, if you stay, do not complain. [p. 1081]

A detailed analysis can be found here: https://people.creighton.edu/~wos87278/Stephens/Ancient-Phil...

Aurelius as such (Meditations, book V):

>As thou intendest to live when thou art gone out,...so it is in thy power to live here. But if men do not permit thee, then get away out of life, yet so as if thou wert suffering no harm. The house is smoky, and I quit it. Why dost thou think that this is any trouble? But so long as nothing of the kind drives me out, I remain, am free, and no man shall hinder me from doing what I choose; and I choose to do what is according to the nature of the rational and social animal.

(and in book X):

>For to continue to be such as thou hast hitherto been, and to be tom in pieces and defiled in such a life, is the character of a very stupid man and one overfond of his life, and like those half-devoured fighters with wild beasts, who though covered with wounds and gore, still intreat to be kept to the following day, though they will be exposed in the same state to the same claws and bites. Therefore fix thyself in the possession of [virtues]: and if thou art able to abide in them, abide as if thou wast removed to certain islands of the Happy. But if thou shalt perceive that thou fallest out of them and dost not maintain thy hold, go courageously into some nook where thou shalt maintain them, or even depart at once from life, not in passion, but with simplicity and freedom and modesty, after doing this one laudable thing at least in thy life, to have gone out of it thus.

In short: leaving life on one's own terms is fine, provided they are rationally considered (so not on the spur of a moment).


Yes. Seneca writes in one of his letters when you are incapacitated to take care of yourself and are a burden to someone else or your self dignity is under question then you should be prepared to lose your body although you must take care of your body well when you can.


Process emotions faster and free brain cycles for more computation. Very much hypothetical example. If a friend or loved ones is dead, one approach is take a lot of time to morn the passing or train your mind in advance to such a degree to process the emotions(not detach because its not possible) faster and move on.


Freedom from anguish


Tranquility


The project I run, Standard Ebooks, has all of Seneca's dialogs available for free for your ereader: https://standardebooks.org/ebooks/seneca/dialogues/aubrey-st...

If you're interested in Stoic philosophy, Marcus Aurelius is also an excellent read: https://standardebooks.org/ebooks/marcus-aurelius/meditation...

Stewart's Seneca translation is admittedly not a super great one, but it does the job. Long's Marcus Aurelius translation is very solid though.


While I like Marcus Aurelius, I find Gregory Hays' translation more readable than Long's.


I think the specialization of our society has really cost us in terms of becoming acquainted with death. My career path (military, medicine, pathology) has brought me in closer contact with death than most. And I'm a huge fan of Stoicism. Have read everything from Epictetus, Seneca, Aurelius. The act of witnessing death, the event itself, has had a profound centering effect. Be careful with the arrow of causality here.

Thinking about death is probably not that healthy of an idea. But exposing yourself to death is probably quite valuable. Consider volunteering at a hospital or nursing home, or even an animal shelter.


Your comment, and this piece reminded me a lot of one I read about the perception of death in Bhutan[1]:

“Rich people in the West, they have not touched dead bodies, fresh wounds, rotten things. This is a problem. This is the human condition. We have to be ready for the moment we cease to exist.”

[1]:http://www.bbc.com/travel/story/20150408-bhutans-dark-secret...


Thinking about death in a healthy way is a good idea, which is what exposing yourself to it would do.


The Stoics of ancient times had something profound to say about everything, it seems. The reason for that, of course, is because what they actually describe is a way of thinking, a way of life. As you can gather from the article, there is also some religious context which is really fairly optional. Or at least you could substitute your own religious beliefs in with all the talk about God. But you can apply Stoic principles to really any situation you could think of. No kidding, and as implausible as it sounds, I've thought of things I read from Marcus Aurelius in the heat of combat, just having sort of popped into my mind. Though I will say that I'd been through a really tough stretch of life around that time, and had been reading some of the Stoics (among others) as an escape. So it's just as likely chance as anything else that brought that dude's writing to mind. Marcus Aurelius is kind of held up among the other greats of Stoic philosophy, but Seneca is really IMO the best. Epictetus is a close second. But Marcus Aurelius is popular because of course he was the Emperor, and never intended on publishing his diaries (which we today call "Meditations"). You want a rabbit hole that will save your life, perhaps not only figuratively? Here it is!


If you don't mind me asking: which Aurelius idea(s) specifically popped into your head, and how did it save you?


Hmm. I suppose I should clarify that these ideas did not save me in combat, and probably would not save anyone in combat. There isn't a philosophy in this universe that would save you from "Whoops! Should have juked right when I juked left!"... But from other things that can kill you, Stoic philosophy will set you up for survival.

About the question, though, I thought about what he said about telling friends and family you're always busy. It was just something that came to mind, making me wish I'd spent more of my time with people I enjoy being around.


Yes me too would you like to know about this specific idea.


I strongly recommend Seneca's On the Shortness of Life. It's one of the best books I've read, and at the very top on the subject of Carpe Diem.

https://www.amazon.com/Shortness-Life-Penguin-Great-Ideas/dp...


I wrote up some notes and summaries of this book several years ago when I read it for anyone without the time: http://peterc.org/pedia/seneca-shortness-of-life/ (though I do recommend reading the book, it is not very long!)


I just read it a few weeks back and was disappointed. His views on life seemed to boil down to something like "make as much wealth as possible, so you can retire as fast as you possibly can, so you can spend all of your time on whatever is meaningful in your life, and by no means ever have any fun." It seemed full of selfish anti-social advice for the extreme curmudgeon. But I also listened to it while on the road, so maybe I missed something.


This is a short book, but it's full of ideas and already very concentrated as it is. So if you really think you can boil it down to a single sentence, I think you are in fact missing quite a lot.

I'm not going to go through the entire book point by point, but here are some salient points your summary misses:

One of the main points of the book is that when most people complain that life is short and they don't have much time they are mistaken. They are mistaken for various reasons, one of the main ones being that they waste their time.

Seneca would not agree with you that merely spending time "on whatever is meaningful in your life" would necessarily be a good use of your life. He goes on at length to decry the many things that even exceedingly rich people occupy their lives with that he thinks are a waste of time (such as vanity; chasing fame, wealth, or favor; being busy-bodies; concerning themselves with trivia, etc), and then talks about the things he thinks would be a good use of one's time -- the best according to him being (Stoic) philosophy.

He emphasizes that one should live for today, rather than for the future. "The greatest hinderance to living is expectancy, which depends upon the morrow and wastes today." "Everyone hurries his life on and suffers from a yearning for the future and a weariness of the present. But he who bestows all of his time on his own needs, who plans out every day as if it were his last, neither longs for nor fears the morrow."

So chasing wealth in order to at some future time have the leisure to enjoy it would be antithetical to Seneca, and is in fact one of the things he explicitly argues against:

"You will hear many men saying: “After my fiftieth year I shall retire into leisure, my sixtieth year shall release me from public duties.” And what guarantee, pray, have you that your life will last longer? Who will suffer your course to be just as you plan it? Are you not ashamed to reserve for yourself only the remnant of life, and to set apart for wisdom only that time which cannot be devoted to any business? How late it is to begin to live just when we must cease to live! What foolish forgetfulness of mortality to postpone wholesome plans to the fiftieth and sixtieth year, and to intend to begin life at a point to which few have attained!"

He's not encouraging the reader to chase after any get-rich-quick schemes either. The man upon whom fortune smiles today could be crushed under its foot tomorrow. Self-mastery and tranquility of mind is what he's after, as only then can one be indifferent to fortune's whims.

There's much more as well. This book is just so chock full of wisdom, I can not praise it highly enough. I really recommend you sit down one day, read through it slowly, and carefully think through each of the things he says.


That brought back a few memories of the book. I remember being extremely turned off when he listed all the things a person shouldn't do for a living and wondering if this book was only targeted at those who were born independently wealthy.


How does "spend all of your time on whatever is meaningful in your life" mean "never have any fun"? Or you mean leisure activities like watching a game or going for coffee?


>> I strongly recommend Seneca's On the Shortness of Life.

> I just read it a few weeks back and was disappointed.

Too short, was it?


But this is a personal advice, not social ?


Another great work is "On a Happy Life". https://www.gutenberg.org/files/56075/56075-h/56075-h.htm


Aurelius said that all you have is the present moment so when you die the only thing you can lose is the present moment. That one really stuck with me.


He was wrong. When you are alive you have not just "the present moment but also all your future moments to look forward to -- and you have thoughts about what to do in those moments.

It's only for the last 'present moment' that what he said holds.


You look to future moments, in the present moment.

There is only the present moment.

This isn't a philosophical stance - it's actually a subtle point that isn't obvious until pointed out, everything you experience, you experience right now, and never any other time, always now.


>You look to future moments, in the present moment. There is only the present moment.

Only as an accounting trick.

People alive have a long series of present moments to go through. And they are conscious of that, and can make plans, and look forward to those.

Dead people don't have anything.

>This isn't a philosophical stance - it's actually a subtle point that isn't obvious until pointed out, everything you experience, you experience right now, and never any other time, always now.

Animals do that (and not sure even for them).

Humans always include the past and the future in their experience of "right now".

If there's "only the present moment", then knowing you have 2 weeks to live because of some sudden severe illness (with no other symptoms except death), would be just as well to anybody. I doubt that this is the case. Of course a stoic can argue otherwise (I don't care what will happen in 2 weeks), but that's a bona fide philosophical stance. Not a subtle point about the human experience.


Right, you've described our “intuitive” view — I put that in quotes because it’s more likely that the nature of our society and its emphasis on “progress” has made us think that the future is a real thing. Actually, the present moment is the only real thing, and the future is just a mental projection made in the present moment. Perhaps surprisingly, so is the past — the past is an abstraction, a projection by our minds that doesn’t really exist. This isn’t just philosophy or speculation but a fact evident to any conscious being that doesn't try to rationalize abstractions into existence, as we Westerns often do.

Some would argue that the entire universe, past present and future, exists simultaneously for an outside observer — I believe there have been some results in quantum physics even suggesting this. This might apply to the physical world, but obviously not to consciousness.

One more thing: realizing this truth is actually very freeing, and has made me more adept at conducting life strategically in this world, not less.


> "People alive have a long series of present moments to go through. And they are conscious of that, and can make plans, and look forward to those.

This is in complete agreement with what I've said. I am merely pointing out that when you make plans, when you are aware of a long series of present moments to go through, you are doing so, right now.

Never any other time.

Again, this isn't a philosophical position as is stoicism - this is based on personal experience. If you ask yourself when anything ever happens, it is only from the present moment that you can make any claims. Because the thought of what you did yesterday or what will happen tomorrow is going to always happen in the now.

> If there's "only the present moment", then knowing you have 2 weeks to live because of some sudden severe illness (with no other symptoms except death), would be just as well to anybody.

This is an excellent point. The folks who are in tune with there only ever being the present moment - would have a very different reaction from those who have a thousand and one concerns because there's the future to look forward to.

This is not to say they will not be affected - there are very deep rooted instincts in the human experience, that don't want to experience dying. The subtle point is that there is another part to the human experience that doesn't mind living or dying - the part that is very well aware that there's only the present moment, and hence no living or dying from that perspective.

It's not one perspective or another that one has to accept as 'right' - it's just recognizing that there are many aspects to life, and being aware of 'easy come, easy go' of moment to moment, as well as 'no pain, no gain' of planning your life out, is good, because then, there is balance in between the two.

The hippies are stuck in 'it's all one maaaan' and the average person is stuck in worrying about tomorrow, so the hippy would benefit from a little planning, an average person from a little oneness :)


Ask yourself: Is it an accounting trick to recognize revenue before it has been realized?


No. It's standard practice. No company would be able to operate without acknowledging for expected revenue and planning its moves accordingly. No company lives "in the moment".

And for the same reason, it's BS to say "it's just the present" for humans as well. For animals, maybe.


The simple truth to be realized, the inherent buddhahood that is present in everyone.


That's interesting, because you can ask: what is the present moment? In physics there is no such thing as simultaneity. And different parts of your brain can communicate at most by the speed of light.


But you don't lose the moment... you go into a new body. (Anticipating down votes for this, though)


You anticipated correctly yet you don't seem to realize why. Where can we possibly take this conversation now except into a religious flame war? If you had approached it from a philosophical perspective, we could actually have a fruitful (or at least interesting) exchange of words. As it stands you dove straight into belief territory, which obviously cannot be debated productively.

(I don't mean to be a jerk but I do mean to criticize your apparent lack of self-awareness.)


Yeah, that makes sense. But I don't understand what you mean about lack of self awareness? (Perhaps validating your point)


I'm a (sort-of) Buddhist myself but I don't presume to know anything for certain, especially not how it should affect the way we see our lives. It just seems arrogant to me to present such things as facts, without so much as an argument. Sorry, shoulda been clearer in my initial reply.


Your comment reminds me of this Zen story:

The Emperor asked Master Gudo, "What happens to a man of enlightenment after death?"

"How should I know?" replied Gudo.

"Because you are a master," answered the Emperor.

"Yes sir," said Gudo, "but not a dead one."


Except there are people who remember their past lives.


There have so far been none who can do that verifiably, though...


How are you so sure? Have you read them all?

I have heard some crazy stories, which if true would be very hard to explain rationally.

https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=PbWMEWubrk0


The downvotes may be more from the baiting ("Anticipating down votes for this...") than the opinion expressed. Even Wikipedia (normally not a bastion of support for the "unexplained") offers a fairly balanced take on Stevenson's Twenty Cases Suggestive of Reincarnation: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Twenty_Cases_Suggestive_of_Rei...


Here's an interesting read:

Parallels in Hindu and Stoic Ethical Thought

http://www.studiesincomparativereligion.com/public/articles/...

> Krishna reminded Arjuna that "Thinking about sense objects will attach you to sense objects. Grow attached and you become addicted. Thwart your addiction, it turns to anger. Be angry and you confuse your mind. Confuse your mind, you forget the lesson of experience. Forget experience, you lose discrimination. Lose discrimination, and you miss life's only purpose".


This is a comparison b/w oranges and pigs. Hinduism is founded by priests to favor Brahmin's and nothing more. Instead of the slavery like in US which is binary(slave or not-slave) in hinduism the caste system is a multiple levels of slavery. Any caste must be a slave to another and if they obey(no choice) they will get another caste as their slaves. Finally at the root node is this Dailt people who are slave to every one in the hierarchy. In contrast Stoic is religion agonistic, in fact Stoicism does not care of religion. Seneca talks about how it does not matter if there is a god exists or not in his reference to free will and determinism in his letters.


If you agree with this, it makes it a lot easier to realize what the current purpose of human life is, i.e., to achieve biological longevity. (By 'current' I mean until we achieve this, it's not of much use to ponder the bigger question of why we're truly here).

This mindset can be used as an alternative to existentialism in which you realize life has no purpose, and that is followed by 'you make your own purpose'. It helps eliminate some of the post-modernistic relativism and introduces some level of objectivity into this big question.


Seneca would not agree. He thought how you lived was much more important than how long you lived. The stoa did not view death as a bad thing, rather as a change in state.


I haven't read the article, but the general point is also a teaching in some kinds of Buddhist philosophy.

(Googling, others who know more about both have made this connection too: https://dailystoic.com/stoicism-buddhism/ For that matter, from that article: "[stoicism stresses] being in accordance with nature and accepting all of the things that happen in life" reminds me that the word "Islam" means "submission" in this sense too -- accepting what God gives you, i.e. what the 'universe' gives you. I guess there's probably some fundamental similarities at the root of most spirituality)


So, the western version of Maranasati?

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mara%E1%B9%87asati


for editor: I remember reading that Seneca died not by suicide, but by first slitting his wrists -- and not dying -- before he then went to the bath and died by chocking on the steam, is his death reason controversial?


It's more his life rather than his death that's controversial. During his life he chose to serve Nero, one of Rome's bloodiest tyrants, and profited greatly from his service. To some that has seemed rather hypocritical for someone who preached a life of self-denial, detachment from worldly things, and distance from rulers and politics.

In Seneca's defense, some have pointed out that he tried to moderate Nero and steer him towards the path of virtue, though he ultimately failed.


For some reason HN has been mimetically pulled into the seneca philosophy. Just so you guys know, there are many many many other philosophies and really great books about ways to look at life and how to live it than just stoicism. Don't let something as important as a life philosophy be steered by social media influencer culture. Take some time to read from sources outside your filter bubble. Your 70 year old self will thank you for it.


Spot on. I strongly recommend Russell's History of Western Philosophy to get a wider perspective and understanding of how and why thought systems evolved, much more insightful than knowing any particular philosophy in a vacuum, and to understand stoicisms place and how it primed the West for Christianity.

It is often claimed that the ancient greeks experimented with every possible philosophical system, of which stoicism is one of many. To me this ultimate freedom of thought, this willingness to challenge and explore ideas without fear of tradition and authority, and to create new ones and following them wherever they may lead, this open mindedness is one of their great contributions.

Of all these, Epicureism is possibly the one that has ultimately triumphed, via Lucrecius' De Rerum Natura. This point of view is wonderfully explained in The Swerve: How the World Became Modern. Absolutely fascinating how by starting by speculating that everyting that exists has an exclusively material substance and is made of atoms (he wasn't the first to speculate this though), Epicureus, via a long chain of reasoning, deducted an ethic that is essentially modern (albeit often misunderstood due to its suppression and distorsion by the christian tradition). 2300 years ago.

I wonder if A Man in Full novel by Tom Wolfe is a precursor of this stoicism trend.


People read Seneca long before the American self-help industry got its hands on Stoic principles. His huge corpus (letters and essays) is surprisingly easy to read and inspired many thinkers after him. It's a gateway to look further into ancient philosophies. Reading his letters at school also allowed us to glimpse the life and struggles of a wealthy Roman citizen.


I was thinking about this today even before this came up! It seems a strange philosophy to adopt for individuals who "disrupt" or who can literally control their digital environments, etc. Fwiw I think people engaging with philosophy is probably a net good.


If you think about someone in a job they hate, ruled by managers and treated as a cog in a machine that makes money for others, it starts to make sense. If you feel helpless in the face of life, then just gritting your teeth and bearing it probably seems appealing. If what you really fear is risk and change in your employment and life, then a philosophy which teaches you to accept the inevitable may attract you.

In short, Dilbert probably reads Seneca.


I doubt that. Stoicism is not about the inevitability of what is now, but about the inevitability of what may happen, and about being humble with the fact that the great war you may be winning now could be lost tomorrow, despite all your greatness. It's the philosophy of leaders of their time, as Marcus Aurelius was, Seneca was, or people who had overcome great obstacles (like Epictetus, who was born a slave). Risk and change were their daily bread, and so their philosophy was very practical in dealing with that.


Can you suggest few readings?


All bhuddist philosophy takes the understanding of your impending death, and the background fear of it, as absolutely critical to determining meaning in your life.

I can not highly recommend enough "The Meaning of Life : Perspectives from the World's Great Intellectual Traditions". It's one of The Great Courses and I found, extremely easy to listen to. The topics covered range from the Bhagavad Gita, to the Book of Job, to Stoicism, to Daoism, Confucianism, Bhuddism, and all the way into modernity (Hume, Mills, Kant, Tolstoy) and post-modernity (Nietzsche).

A pervasive theme of ALL cultures with a philosophical tradition is the necessity of living one's life with the moment to moment realization of one's death.


I like Nietszche, Emerson (especially 'Self-Reliance'), Walt Whitman and the Tao Te Ching. For fiction Zorba the Greek and Dune are two of my favorites.


I like Emerson's Circles essay. It's helped me maintain some humility many times.

Kant's CI for ethics.

Tao Te Ching for perspective and focus.

Nonviolent communication by Marshall Rosenberg for confrontation and interpersonal communication. The concept of NVC and, through its negation, violent communication underscores so much of what's currently going on in the world.


The Bible

edit: For those of you down voting me for whatever reason, can you at least contribute to the discussion and explain how my answer was a poor one?

The bible is one of the greatest stories ever told containing a myriad of different ways at looking at life.


I think a big factor is that many people here are surrounded by people who are steeped in Biblical culture, yet living objectively terrible lives. The dominant religious narrative of any culture is inevitably corrupted by temporal pressures.

Also, while I agree there are many valuable lessons to be learned from the Bible, the New Testament is not a book for people who strive for wealth, and HN attracts strivers. Not to say you can't be a Christian and strive for wealth, but the striving is going to come from some other part of your life, and it's going to force you to compartmentalize Christian values to some extent. Seneca, on the other hand, was unapologetically wealthy, and his philosophy was consistent with that.


A particularly important read concerning the meaning of life is the book of Ecclesiastes. It tells of Solomon’s great experiment of finding meaning in knowledge, pleasure, wealth, accomplishment, etc..

I am often bewildered by those who pour a great deal of energy in planning for retirement and ignoring the fact that they will soon thereafter be pushing up daisies. Death awaits us all.


I pour a lot into retirement because I don't want my final days to be a time of financial hardship or to be a burden on my children.

Today, I can easily move around, feed/wash myself, and but that won't be true forever. Putting money away for later gives me some measure of confidence I'll be able to pay someone to help me when the time comes.


Why not kill yourself when you get too old to wash/feed yourself? I'm being serious. I've asked myself that many times and can't find a good reason why not.


It's not even about washing/feeding yourself. I simply don't want to have to work all my life. I'd like to spend my days reading, watching movies, traveling, eating out, etc.

To your question though, I find that as I get older life is increasingly more interesting. I suspect that will be the case regardless of whether I'm hobbled by my body.

Also, if I have grandchildren I can imagine wanting to hang around to see them grow up.


Why not kill yourself today? The answer may be similar.


I think planning for retirement is important, but spending no thought of what happens next seems very irrational.


The Book of Job might be one that the Stoics could appreciate, as in it Job is robbed of every worldly good, his health, his friends, and his family. Though they'd probably point out that if only Job had practiced Stoicism he'd be able to meet all of these privations with indifference.


If you like Job you should seek out the play J.B. by Archibald MacLeish. His take on the story is that Job in the end forgives God, making him superior in some way to the God he loves so much, which is a view of the story you don't often hear.


Yeah the Bible is typically overlooked these days. Even most Christians probably don't read it. And many of the type who discovered Seneca or Dogen through a self-help blog probably take pride in how intelligent and "rational" they are (for flowing along with the dominant current of our culture ha) in rejecting Christianity. But the Bible is literally just a library of different writings, the whole point of which is to give a complete picture of life, to furnish the imagination with stories and characters and lessons. Proverbs is a place to start I guess, though I'm hardly the person to ask. I remember liking the Gospel of Mark as a kid?


> The Bible

> edit: For those of you down voting me for whatever reason, can you at least contribute to the discussion and explain how my answer was a poor one?

> The bible is one of the greatest stories ever told containing a myriad of different ways at looking at life.

By itself, it wasn’t a very compelling comment. You made no effort to support your position. Given that the Christian bible is considered to be a religious text first and philosophy second (if at all), you should have made a case for why it was relevant in this context.


The Essays of Montaigne. While it is a massive time, he wrote in so much detail into his own thought process, we are given a peek into his mind. He also digests thousands of aphorisms, maxims, parables and quotes from the classics and the works from antiquity. I have heard people referring to it as a sort of a secular Bible. I recommend the translation by M A Screech.


The bible reveals that the basic problem humanity has is not lack of a robust life philosophy but rather that we're inherently sinful and thus deserving of death (physical and eternal). That's an offensive message.

It then explains that the remedy to the judgement we deserve is believing in Jesus Christ, who by bearing that judgement, causes our sin to be imputed to himself and his righteousness to be imputed to us. Accepting this requires us to admit we are totally helpless and at God's mercy. That's an even more offensive message.


In the current era, I think the bible has gotten enough press. Far fewer people have read Seneca than the bible - and the bible permeates US culture. It's like telling someone learning about IT who's only ever worked with Windows to keep right on developing their Windows background. It's not awful advice, and it's not comment worthy.


But there's so much about Windows that the average end user doesn't know - just like there's so much about the Bible that the average American doesn't know. If you want to learn about operating systems, NT is genuinely worth taking a deep look at, for both the successful and unsuccessful things about it, and "I've been using MS Word my whole life" isn't a reason not to look at NT. And even if you just want to work at the operational level, running a Windows environment with AD / Group Policy / etc. is so different from maintaining your personal Windows laptop


If all you’ve ever done is maintain a personal Windows install for yourself you’re not a Windows IT professional.


The Consolations of Philosophy by Alain De Botton is a very approachable introduction to Socrates, Epicurus, Seneca, Montaigne, Shopenhauer, and Nietzsche and the practical takeaways from their teachings.


Practice of Perfection and Christian Virtues

by Alphonsus Rodriguez[1], translated by Josephy Rickaby[2]

https://archive.org/stream/PPCV-Manresa#page/n3/mode/2up

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alonso_Rodriguez

[2] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Joseph_Rickaby


- Tao Te Ching, especially LeGuin's translation - Finite & Infinite Games (J.P. Carse) - Man's Search for Meaning


Lately, this has been my go-to recommendation: Vaster Than Sky, Greater Than Space: What You Are Before You Became by Mooji.


Sam Harris recently had a podcast on the topic for those who are interested:

https://samharris.org/podcasts/the-lessons-of-death/




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